Quality of life experience begins with a healthy brain
If the brain is functioning well, life is easier, challenges are met with fluidity, calm and focused mental states are more accessible, sleep is refreshing, and relationships more gratifying. When the brain is unhealthy or damaged, the effects are striking. Aspects of life previously mentioned are difficult and symptoms develop that result in psychological, emotional, or relational pain. Chronic stress, trauma, early life experiences, insufficient relational support, violent and abusive relationships, or simply neglecting brain health can impair brain function. Neurofeedback is a powerful tool to train the brain back to health and improved quality of life.
What is Neurofeedback?
Neurofeedback, also called EEG Biofeedback, is a method of brain training utilizing computer and electroencephalographic (EEG) technology to help individuals perform optimally and reduce undesirable symptoms.
As groups of brain cells fire, they produce subtle electrical waves which are measurable at the surface of the scalp with EEG sensors. The brain produces more or less of particular waves when engaged in various mental activities. For example, when individuals are focused, they produce more intense higher frequency waves, called beta (15-38 cycles per second), than when relaxed. Alternately, in a relaxed state, alpha waves (8-14 cycles per second) are produced at a greater intensity. When falling asleep, slower waves abound.
Humans require the ability to transition to and from various mental states to perform specific tasks. Inefficiencies in the form of unwanted symptoms occur when the brain becomes “stuck” in a particular state. For example, the brains of depressed individuals often exhibit an imbalance of excessive slow brainwaves, and the brains of those who are easily stressed or anxious produce disproportionate fast waves.
Healthy brains retain the ability to flexibly move from state to state when called upon to do so. People with flexible brains are able to feel sadness without getting stuck in depression. Brains that perform optimally are able to become highly focused, productive and efficient one moment and calm and relaxed the next. The brains of people who are chronically stressed have difficulty shifting states necessary for rest and recovery. Neural flexibility allows us to perform well at work, school or sports. Neurofeedback can train the brain to become more flexible and less “stuck.”
Flexible brains are also resilient, that is, they are able to ‘bounce back’ from difficult life circumstances, lack of sleep, and exposure to harmful substances. It is appropriate from time-to-time for a person to experience a degree of stress, which motivates one to spring to action. Once the necessary action has been taken, the resilient brain allows the return to a relaxed state, which is necessary to get proper rest and recovery. It is in this relaxed state of openness that we are present and available in relationships.
Who Can Benefit From Neurofeedback?
Because neurofeedback is exercise for the brain, anyone can benefit. It is particularly useful to decrease symptoms of:
- Trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Emotion dysregulation
- Racing thoughts
- Sleep disorders and insomnia
- Attention and Concentration (Attention Deficit Disorder [ADD], Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder [ADHD])
- Headaches and chronic pain
- Low energy and chronic fatigue
- Post-Concussion Syndrome and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
- Brain fog
- Cognitive declined due to aging
Neurofeedback is a non-invasive alternative to those who react adversely or fail to respond to mainstream treatments. Neurofeedback is particularly appropriate for those who have not responded well to medication or who have experienced unwanted side effects resulting from medication use, who are pregnant and therefore do not want to take medication, or who would prefer a non-chemical intervention. Neurofeedback recruits the brain’s ability to change itself, training it to function more adaptively. Similar to learning anything new, the effects of brain-training with neurofeedback are sustained.
People on psychotropic medications, like SSRIs for depression and anxiety, do not need to change their medication regimen to do neurofeedback. Some find that as their symptoms decrease so does the need for medication. In such cases we recommend people speak with their prescribing physician about dose modification.
Neurofeedback can restore optimal sleep-wake cycles, stabilize emotions, and reduce cravings. As brain functioning normalizes, becoming increasingly adaptive and resilient, symptoms are reduced.
Because neurofeedback trains the brain towards optimal functioning, this procedure is useful for a wide variety of individuals looking to increase their performance in sports, at work, academics, or general quality of life. For health individuals, neurofeedback can improve focus and attention, cognitive flexibility, creativity, sleep quality, and emotion regulation.
What is the Experience of Neurofeedback Therapy Like?
During a training session, clients sit in a comfortable chair facing a monitor, watching a movie or listening to music while shapes and images move onscreen. Sensors applied to the scalp receive electrical information produced by the brain. No electricity is delivered to the brain. Whenever the brain becomes overactive or underactive, a very short and subtle pause in the audio/video feed is delivered. The brain correlates this feedback with the under- or overactive brain activity and reorganizes itself. The brain’s adaptive and self-regulatory mechanisms utilize the feedback without any conscious intervention by the client.
We recommend that for at least the first 8-10 sessions, people come for two appointments per week. We also accommodate those who would prefer once or three times per week neurofeedback sessions.
What are the Effects of Neurofeedback?
The effects of neurofeedback are often noticeable even after the first session. Clients often report feeling more relaxed and less anxious than when they arrived for their session. Some say they feel more alert and clear-minded, as though brain fog has lifted. Others whose concern is depression find that their mood is slightly lighter as they leave the office. Some find they are falling asleep faster, staying asleep longer, and that their quality of sleep has improved.
Those with ADHD or attention difficulties, find that they are able to get into a state of focus more quickly and retain the state for longer durations. Children with ADHD who train with neurofeedback are better able to concentrate on tasks other than video games. These effects of neurofeedback lengthen and grow as clients continue training. The efficacy for neurofeedback for ADHD has been demonstrated in a 2019 meta analysis of the controlled studies research indicating that neurofeedback results in sustained improvement in hyperactivity/impulsivity and inattention compared to randomized control groups (Van Doren et. al).
Are There Any Side Effects of Neurofeedback?
Most people do not experience any negative side effects of neurofeedback. However, for some who have suffered psychological trauma, current symptoms can increase temporarily. Such individuals may get a slight headache, feel a little more “amped up,” or find it difficult to fall asleep the night after the session. These do not endure longer than a few hours after the session and very rarely do they appear after the second session. These side effects are indication that the brain is responding to the feedback and such individuals typically train well
Different Types of Neurofeedback Therapy
Some types of neurofeedback therapy require a quantitative EEG assessment (QEEG) or brain map. This is a brainwave recording taken at various locations on the scalp, which is compared to databases to determine abnormalities. The brain map shows the average electrical output from various brain regions that, when compared to the database, shows where these abnormalities are. We use this information along symptoms reported to determine how the brain should be trained. This is called linear neurofeedback because it encourages the brain to produce more or less of a particular frequency, in one direction.
Let's say the brain map shows that the back of the brain is too fast and the person often feels stressed, anxious, and has insomnia. The brain depicted shows a high concentration of fast wave, or beta, and/or a low concentration of a slow frequency called theta. We train this area to slow down by placing a sensor over the appropriate location and setting the instrument to deliver feedback to reinforce increased theta and decreased beta - activity that will promote a relaxed state. We use audio/visual feedback, often in the form of a movie, which brightens or increases in size when the brain begins to relax in the target area. With regular and frequent training, the brain strengthens its ability to access this state more often and the person gradually experiences a reduction of the related symptoms.
Sojourn provides this kind of neurotherapy in the office. We also provide the option to allow clients to train their brains from home with rental neurofeedback systems. This allows people to do neurofeedback sessions more frequently, whenever and wherever they choose. Our linear neurofeedback system allows people to do an EEG assessment at home. We receive the results and set the system to train the under-functioning brainwaves. We receive the results of every training session and can adjust the training parameters as needed, remotely. Learn more about our linear neurofeedback rental system.
Other types of neurofeedback systems, like NeurOptimal®, do not require a QEEG assessment as these systems determine when to deliver feedback during the training session itself. The NeurOptimal® system does not require an additional brain-mapping session because it is assessing the brain's activity during the training session in real time. One significant difference between linear systems and NeurOptimal® is that NeurOptimal® measures how the brain is operating across time. It does not encourage the brain to produce more or less of a particular set of brainwaves.
NeurOptimal® encourages the brain to better adapt to the necessities of the moment. Changing conditions require quick adaptation to meet the challenge. This system samples the spectrum of the brain's electrical output 256 times per second over both hemispheres simultaneously and measures this data across time to determine how adaptive and flexible the brain is. This system delivers feedback when the brain is changing too quickly or not fast enough. Most of our clients respond well to this kind of neurofeedback therapy and is therefore the intervention we recommend first. Sojourn also offers NeurOptimal® neurofeedback rental systems.
Further information and research articles pertaining to neurofeedback and our approach may be found at:
The Zengar Institute
The Journal of Neurotherapy
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